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How Asian countries celebrate Lunar New Year
From late-January to mid-February, China, South Korea, Vietnam, Mongolia, and many other Asian countries celebrate the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival. The holiday sees the world's largest annual human migration as hundreds of millions of people take a journey back home, bringing the global economy to a halt and causing a crazy traffic load. It is an annual headache for retailers and importers overseas who rely on Asia as all factories shut down. While all countries that celebrate New Year emphasize family reunions, specific celebrations and rituals encompassing the holiday are unique in each nation.
In China, the Lunar New Year is the one occasion where an entire country is holding a family reunion at once. During the 15 days of celebration, the government sees nearly three billion journeys taking place. With almost 1,000 tickets sold every second, the holiday season regularly leads to paralysis in the booking systems. Those who failed to purchase tickets go as far as bidding over resale tickets from scalpers. The decoration of public spaces for New Year takes place at least a month before. Red lanterns are hanged in the streets, red couplets are arranged on doors, and official buildings are decorated with red paintings. A legend has it that a monster called Nian used to come out on New Year's Eve and devour on villagers, crops, and livestock. Someone eventually figured that this beast was afraid of firelights, blasting sounds, and the color red. It is believed that since then, the Chinese have been decorating every street, building, and house with red and letting off firecrackers on New Year's Eve. Due to concerns over air pollution, more than 500 cities have banned fireworks. However, most people do it anyway on New Year's Eve. A day before the New Year, people clean their homes thoroughly to sweep away ill-fortunes and make room for the good. Families don't sweep the floor or throw out garbage until the fifth day of New Year to not wash away the good fortune. Having a child and passing down the family name is of the utmost importance in Chinese culture. So, it is common practice to hire a fake boyfriend or girlfriend on New Year.
South Korea's New Year, Seollal, mostly coincides with the Chinese New Year, except that they fall a day apart every few years. The holiday usually lasts three days, including the day before and the day after. Koreans stay awake until midnight on New Year's Eve as the local legends state that your eyebrows will turn white and you will age faster than usual if you fail to do so. It is a custom to make a wish while watching the first sunrise of the year. This tradition encourages many locals to travel to Jeongdongjin Beach, sitting on the country's easternmost side, to see the peninsula's first sunrise. Families begin the morning of Seollal with a bowl of tteokguk, a rice cake soup representing longevity and a new beginning. It is believed that you do not get a year older on New Year if you do not have a bowl of tteokguk. The tradition is so popular that people would often say, "How many bowls of rice cake soup have you eaten?" to ask someone's age. Some families also drink a liquor called kkwi balki sol, which supposedly blesses the drinker with the ability to accept wise advice and to ignore malicious gossips. The tonic is often home-made, so its ingredient sometimes includes weird superstitious elements like animal feces. On New Year, Koreans usually visit their ancestors' graves to pay respect, especially those of their late grandmother and grandfather.
The Vietnamese believe rearranging and decorating their homes before the New Year or Tet would eliminate all the previous year's troubles. So, while the actual celebration lasts just seven days, its preparation takes at least two weeks. The atmosphere leading up to Tet is in the bustle of shopping, decorating, and preparing traditional delicacies. People try to pay off their debts so that they can be debt-free in the upcoming year. Besides the color red, Vietnamese consider the color yellow a lucky color. So, families arrange yellow chrysanthemums, peach trees, and kumquat trees in vases at their front door to welcome the new year. Vietnamese believe the first visitor who comes to their house on New Year determines their fortune for the entire year, so they tend to invite someone known for their generosity and cheerfulness. Despite the effort, the first guest of the year can be unexpected, so most households only open their doors to the invited visitor. It is taboo to visit someone during Tet if you had recently experienced a loss of a family member.
Compared to other Asian countries, the New Year arrives much later in Laos, in mid-April. It is the hottest season of the year, marking the beginning of the Monsoon season. Maybe because of this, water is the most prominent element in their New Year celebration. On the first day of the year, young people pour water on their elders, then on monks for blessings of long life and peace, and engage in a water fight with each other to wash away any bad karma. The water used in the ritual is often scented with fragrant flowers to give a pleasant feeling. In recent years, people also started throwing shaving cream or white powder on each other during the celebration. On the second day, there is a ritual involving the Mekong River, the country's primary water source. Thousands of sand stupas decorated with flowers and splashed with scented water are built in the Buddhist temples and brought to the river banks to stop evil spirits from entering the country. On the third or the last day, the Baci ceremony takes place to cleanse 32 organs of the human body, referred to as kwan or spirits. Every participant wears a white thread around their wrist, which symbolizes tying the kwan to the body. The respected elder of the village holds a chanting session, which is repeated by everyone gathered there. At the end of the ceremony, the participants eat a shared meal. In the evening, people go to the temples to ask for forgiveness for their mistakes. Another way to atone for their sins at this time is to set captive animals free. The most commonly freed animals are tortoises, fish, crabs, birds, and eels.
In Mongolia, the New Year is called Tsagaan Sar or "White Moon". Mongols used to dress in all-white, ride a white horse, and eat only dairy products during the celebration. The New Year is a joyous occasion for the country's nomadic herders as it marks the coming of spring after the long and harsh winter where hundreds of their animals can freeze to death. The preparation for Tsagaan Sar starts a month before the actual festival as families need to clean their homes, repair broken items, prepare feast food, and either buy or craft new traditional garments to wear on the big day. On New Year's Eve, families gather together at their parents or grandparents and feast until they are full so that they can live abundantly in the coming year. On the first day of the year, everyone wakes up early in the morning and put on their new clothes. Men climb to the nearest hill to watch the first sunrise while women prepare milk tea to offer it to earth. After that, the family leaves home to visit their relatives, friends, and even neighbors. When a guest arrives, the host invites them in and greets them by offering snuff tobacco. The guests are then served with milk tea, dairy products, steamed meat dumplings known as buuz, and other delicacies. Upon their departure, the host must present gifts to the guests to thank them for paying a visit. This practice had become somewhat of a financial burden in recent years, as families strive to give guests lavish gifts to show how well they are doing. It is estimated that over 45% of the Mongolian elders take out a pension-backed loan to buy presents for guests, who can easily count to 100 people.
In the early days, Bhutan celebrated the New Year or Losar on the winter solstice, the day with the longest night of the year. But the country later aligned with the Tibetan calendar through Buddhism and started celebrating Losar in February, in line with Mongolia and Tibet. The Bhutanese consider the first day of the year a Traditional Day of Offering as it was the day when people gave their annual offering of grains to the monk Ngawang Namgyal. The holy man, who unified all of Bhutan, resided in Phunaka, which lies in the west. Hence, ambassadors of the central and eastern region traveled there on New Year to give their offerings. To make up for their absence, the envoys celebrated the holiday at home before leaving, while their families celebrated it again on the actual date. Over time, this practice had become a custom, and even now, people of Eastern and Central Bhutan celebrate Losar twice a year. The Bhutanese believe that if they are happy during Losar, the whole year will be full of happiness. Therefore, they drink and eat a lot. People also enjoy dancing and singing traditional music. To celebrate New Year, every village of Bhutan arranges archery competitions. The participants are advised not to spend the night with their wives the night before the match to achieve a high concentration. It is bad luck to kill animals in the Losar until a month later. So, all meat shops are closed during the period.
In 2021, it seems like the coronavirus epidemic may affect the Lunar New Year celebrations once again. Hong Kong, which is in partial lockdown since last month, has canceled their iconic parade and fireworks planned for the festival. Mongolian government had decided to ban the celebration this year over concerns that large migration may spread the virus across the country. Seoul has called-off its annual New Year's Eve bell-ringing ceremony in the Jongno neighborhood for the first time since it was first held in 1953, right after the Korean War. Fortunately, Vietnam announced four days' vacation on New Year to allow a long-waited family reunion. Taiwan is also holding its usual celebration, a firework display by its capital city's iconic tower, Taipei 101, and a flag-raising ceremony in front of the Presidential Office Building the next morning. Despite the bad and good news, it is safe to say that Lunar New Year will make a comeback once the pandemic is over, as it is a holiday that had became part of national identity for many countries.
The Lao New Year | Laos Private Tour
Each year, as spring breaks out along the mighty Mekong River, the Lao people celebrate the Lunar New Year. This is an ideal time for Laos private tour, joining the locals carrying Buddhist idols and figurines on noisy and colorful parades through the center of Luang Prabang, a city of ancient temples, fantastic architecture, and ancient traditions.View Tour